Film Review: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title)
Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes

Review:

“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto

Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.

I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.

The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.

In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!

Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.

Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.

It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.

The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.

The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.

Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.

Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.

While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.

For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.

I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.

Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.

I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.

On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.

To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.

In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.

So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.

Comic Review: Uncanny X-Force, Vol. 3 & 4: The Dark Angel Saga – Books I & II

Published: May 23rd, 2012 (Vol. 3), August 15th, 2012 (Vol. 4)
Written by: Rick Remender
Art by: Rich Elson, Billy Tan, Mark Brooks, Scot Eaton, Andrew Currie, Andrew Hennessy, Jerome Opena, Robbi Rodriguez, Dean White

Marvel Comics, 274 Pages (total)

Review:

This is the big story arc where this highly regarded comic series really came together for me. I was patient, I liked the build of the two volumes before this and I was happy to discover that this was going somewhere solid.

The Dark Angel Saga is broken out into two volumes but I’m reviewing it as one body of work because that’s the best way to talk about it and because these Uncanny X-Force TPBs are too short.

Overall, the story reminds me of the late ’80s/early ’90s X-Men crossover events. This is actually smaller in scale and didn’t crossover with multiple books but it just had that feel, as the story itself is pretty grandiose. And frankly, I’m surprised it was contained in just one comic.

Rick Remender had a vision for this title and this is where that truly becomes clear.

This is a team made up of several characters I love, as well as Fantomex, who I didn’t know before this but have grown to like over the course of this comic.

The focus of the story is on the continued inner turmoil of Angel/Archangel. Now that Apocalypse is dead, his body and mind are slipping into darkness, as he is supposed to evolve into the next Apocalypse.

The story also takes us into the dimension from the Age of Apocalypse epic. Our X-Force team finds allies in the X-Men team of that dimension, which adds some really cool subplots to the story, as characters are reunited and some are very different than their regular versions.

The Dark Angel Saga is well choreographed and written, balancing a ton of characters, introducing new ones but still giving us something pretty focused that tells its story well and isn’t bogged down by a large ensemble and the problems that come with that.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run.

Comic Review: X-Men: Grand Design

Published: October 4th, 2017 – January 3rd, 2018
Written by: Ed Piskor
Art by: Ed Piskor

Marvel Comics, 92 Pages

Review:

X-Men lore is so massive that a series like this is actually pretty necessary for modern fans who don’t know all the details of the older X-Men stories and how things led to where the franchise is now.

X-Men: Grand Design is a fabulous series that goes through the entire history of the X-Men team.

The first Grand Design series was comprised of two 46 page comics. The second series is also broken out over two issues but this is about the original run, which covered the original X-Men team, mainly comprised of Cyclops, the original Ms. Marvel (Jean Grey), Beast, Iceman and Angel.

This comic moves very briskly, as it hits every major storyline in the comic’s original run. We see the origins of all the key players, heroes and villains. We also see how the Sentinels came to be and the formation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, as well as all the hoopla surrounding the arrival of the Phoenix Force.

Ed Piskor did an incredible job of writing this and mapping out the story so well. Everything just flows and it is perfectly accented by his old school pulp-like artwork.

I know these stories but even I don’t remember every single chapter of X-Men history. For old fans and new fans, this really is a must own and a must read. If anything, it just tapped into nostalgia pretty strongly and it has made me want to go back and read some of the classic story arcs.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis.

Comic Review: Avengers vs. X-Men – Collected Edition

Published: November 7th, 2012
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 568 Pages

Review:

Being less than a month away from Avengers: Infinity War, the biggest cinematic event to date for Marvel, I wanted to read something in the comics that was also a massive tale. I haven’t read this before but I had heard some positive feedback about it and figured I’d check it out.

I mean, who doesn’t want to see what would happen if the Avengers and the X-Men came to blows?

So there is this Hope Summers character that’s some modern Marvel creation and I don’t know much abut her other than she was raised by Cable and the Phoenix Force is rushing back to Earth to attach itself to her.

Cyclops of the X-Men wants to protect her on his terms, Captain America wants to take her into custody to protect her and the planet as well. Cyclops acts like a big fascist dick and a fight breaks out between the X-Men and the Avengers. All of which could have been prevented if Cyclops wasn’t an egotistical fascist dick.

The Phoenix Force tries to latch onto Hope but she rejects it. The Phoenix is then split into five parts and possess Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Colossus. So now the Avengers have to fight five fascist Phoenixes with a mutant army.

Ultimately, Cyclops becomes the Dark Phoenix.

The story just wasn’t good and most of the characters were just irrational. In fact, I wouldn’t be comfortable living in a world where most of these heroes had powers. We live in a time and age where comics don’t have to be written for children with stupid situations that don’t make a lot of sense to an adult who can apply reason and empathy to life’s problems and conflicts.

But I guess the writers needed a reason to pit the Avengers against the X-Men so they went with a real lazy route and made Cyclops into a prickish moron because no one likes him anyway.

Civil War was a much better mega event. It was well thought out, asked real questions, gave good arguments for both sides of the equation and it just worked. Avengers vs. X-Men just seemed forced and aimless.

The art was good though.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Both of the Marvel Civil War events, as it is very similar. Also, the old school X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga.